Per Koch is the founder of Pandia.com . Because of Pandia.com Per is considered an European expert on Internet searching and the search engine industry. Per also works as Director of analysis and strategic development at The Research Council of Norway. The team has been trying for a long time to do an interview with Per. But because of his busy schedule it was difficult for him to find time for an interview. However, he finally found time to chat with us. These are excerpts from the interview :-
1) How and when did you decide to Start Pandia.com ?
That was actually as far back as in 1998. I worked at the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research at the time, in the field of science and technology policy. The Minister had asked me to be a member of the editorial committee of a magazine the Ministry was publishing, and as a member I proposed to add an Internet column and a website focusing on online resources for teachers. I learned a lot about the Internet and search engines this way, so when Parliament decided to close down the magazine, my wife Susanne and I came up with the idea to use this knowledge for a site on search.I like to say that Pandia was started as an act of Parliament!
2) Tell us a little bit about your journey till date?
After having completed my studies (the History of Ideas) I started in the ministry as a young novice. After 9 years I guess you could say I had become a science and technology policy expert. I started working as an innovation researcher at the Norwegian research institute STEP, and ended up as the leader of that institute before it was merged with another institute to become NIFU STEP. Later I moved over to the Research Council of Norway, working on the knowledge base of research and innovation policy. I am now leading a policy project in my old ministry.
3) You are probably one of the few people who were working in a government department and understood search engines and internet Marketing. Did people within the government listen to your ideas ? How hard or easy was it to convince them?
Back in the 1990’s the editor of the Schola magazine took on board my idea about an Internet column, as did the minister. The IT people in the ministries was very sceptical, though. The government web site was new, and they believed that a link from that web site would be interpreted as an official sign of approval (!). They were caught up in the old publishing paradigm. It would be very hard to write about search engines without linking to them, but the minister got the last word.
It has to be said, though, that the Norwegian ministries were early adapters Internet wise. I remember telling Susanne (my wife) about a program I had found on the ministry PC called Gopher. “It is absolutely amazing,” I told her. “I can actually access computers in the US!” Later a friend in the IT department showed me the firs web browser, Mosaic. I had seen the future and it worked.
it took years before Norwegian businesses started putting up web sites, and when they did, they did not care about search engine optimization. Norwegian is a small language (5 million) and there wasn’t much of a competition. It continues to be much easier to rank well in Norwegian compared to the English language web.
4) Social Media is all the craze these days, but you have some serious privacy concerns. Can you share your views on this ?
What worries me is not that social web sites allow people to tell the whole world about their kinks. Making a fool of yourself in public is a democratic right. What worries me is the lack of transparency. I should have the competences needed to penetrate the privacy rules of Facebook, but even I find it hard to determine who gets access to the things I post online. When Google used my email address book to establish my network of contacts in Google Buzz, and then made that network public without asking me, I was appalled. My email and who I write to is private information and should remain so.
Some say that the new generations are not as concerned about privacy as people like I am. But from what I see, the younger generations are much more careful about what they publish than my generation is. They have seen what can happen when a party photo appears on Facebook or flickr, or an embarrassing video goes viral on YouTube. The problem is with those that grew up in the old paradigm and who do not realize what you find out using modern search engines. An individual snippet of information, let’s say your date of birth, may not seem too compromising, but when someone is trying to get access to your bank account that date may be essential.
5) How do you find time to juggle between your job and running Pandia.com ?
Haaa! I don’t! No really, it is hard, and there have been times when Susanne and I have debated whether we should stop. But you see, we learn a lot from following the search engine and social media industries. Susanne is working on web communication and social media over at the University of Oslo, so the synergies are great. I am giving policy advice on research and innovation, and knowing one industry well is paramount, especially when that industry is one of the big catalysts for cultural change.
6) Tell us how Pandia has become such a successful site and what are the reasons for its success.
I guess you could say it has become successful, even if it’s not as big as Search Engine Land and some of the other industry sites. We do have a lot of regular readers. I guess it is all about finding the right niches. We are trying to popularize complex issues for people who do not necessarily know that much about search. This applies to Internet searching and finding and using the right search tools, as well as search engine marketing. If you know absolutely nothing about search engine optimization before, reading some of our stuff can make a big difference.
But I also see that we do something else that sets us apart from some of the other sites. We contextualize. By that I mean that we try to interpret search and online marketing as social phenomena, and understand the interaction between these industries and society at large. This applies to privacy issues, of course, but also to the effect the Internet has on our way of working and thinking.
I am especially fascinated by the transformative effect the Internet, including search and social media , has on politics and the exchange of ideas. I believe that this technology, combined with the massive efforts most countries have in the area of education, will make it so much harder to stop democratisation. Knowledge is power. In the long run it will be hard for countries like Iran and China to combine the authoritarian state with the strive towards a so-called knowledge based economy where a large percentage of the population has higher education.
7) What is your favorite search engine (apart from Google) ?
Any particular reason you like it ? I find myself using Google a lot, but I see that I often go directly to some of their separate databases. That is: I use news search for news, blog search for current updates and so on. I used to be a big fan of Ask, but when they abandoned their innovative interface is favour of a bland Google copy, I lost interest. The irony of it all is that both Google and Bing now present search engine result pages that look very much like the ones Ask had a couple of years ago. By the way, quality wise Bing is slowly becoming a real alternative to Google.
I have been a fan of Vivisimo’s metasearch engine Clusty, especially because of its advanced clustering of result. It has now been taken over by Yippy and it remains to be seen whether it will survive that transition.
I also often go directly to resource sites to search. I use the Wikipedia to get a general overview over a new topic and to find essential links for further exploration. If I am looking for movie information, I used IMDB.com and so on.
8) Which is your favorite Social Media site ? Again give us reasons why you like it.
I probably should not say this, but I do not find Facebook that useful. Susanne says it is because i do not appreciate the social grooming side of it. I like twitter better, not for the grooming but as a tool for finding and disseminating information about useful stuff found on the Web. I think Linkedin’s professional discussion groups have potential.
My favorite Social Media site is the Wikipedia, though. It has become an amazing source of information. Here’s a tip: If you are going in deep on a particular topic, read the Discussion section, where you can see the contributors argue about what should be included and what should not. You can find interesting arguments and links that do not make it into the published text there.
9) What do you think about Bing? Will it ever be able to compete with Google?
As I said, Bing is more than a decent search engine. I love the elegant design, which is both functional and aesthetically pleasing. In the short term, Bing is not a big threat to Google, but Google may make a stupid mistake one day that makes people lose trust in them. The Bing and streetcar stories tell us that this is possible. When that happens Bing becomes the main alternative.
10) Are there any websites/ businesses you like / admire ?
I have a deep admiration for blog sites like Blogger and WordPress.com and Tumblr. They have made it possible for anyone to become a publisher without any knowledge of HTML and databases. Yes, I know that 95 percent of the blogs out there are crap, but that rule applies to almost everything. The remaining 5 percent, however, represents much of what the Web should be about, as I see it, a place for discussing what’s important in life, being that climate change or the arrival of your new pet.
In the search engine industry sphere I am a deep admirer of Danny Sullivan and his Search Engine Land site. He is very knowledgeable, has his ear to the ground, and know how to make complex issues understandable for the rest of us.
Thanks once again Per for agreeing to do this interview and let us thank you on behalf of entire Editorial team over here at – Small Business and Technology News.